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Radon "Daughters" Causing Problems In Fond Du Lac

Keith Howell

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      APRIL 1980      v10 n04 p02  
Radon Gas and its "Daughter" products were the subject of a meeting April 1st in the northern community of Fond du Lac.

The meeting was the result of the discovery of high incidences of the radioactive gas after surveys conducted in 1977.

In answer to questions from the Band Council, a Health Physicist from National Health and Welfare in Ottawa outlined the concentrations of the gas discovered, and the dangers it poses.

Dick McGregor said the first survey conducted did not yield high enough measurements to be considered hazardous. But, subsequent surveys yielded some worrisome statistics. This information was turned over to Regina, and further action was taken from there. McGregor told the meeting that Radon Gas is a decay product of Uranium. Therefore, the gas can migrate out of the soil, and is measurable almost anywhere, with sensitive enough equipment.

Radon itself, said McGregor, is NOT a health hazard. However, when Radon Gas decays, it breaks down into four "daughter" products. The unit of measurement for these is the Pico-Currie per litre. One of these daughter products, in turn, is further measured in "working-levels". 70-Pico-Curries per cubic metre is considered normal for the OUTSIDE environment. The "daughters" can go as high as .001 working levels. At Fond du Lac, the Maximum measured was 0.1 working levels in the first survey, 0.27 in the second, and 0.27 in the third.

There are no maximum Working-levels for human concentration. BUT - - in Mining, they have a level set of 170-Working-Level-Months and these must not exceed four per year.

A few years ago, some concern was voiced about the possibility of additional hazards for workers. 0.02 working-levels for Radon Daughters was set as the maximum allowable for Uranium areas. The Health Hazard the Department of National Health and Welfare is concerned about is the radiation dose to the lung, the end product of which, if over-exposed, is lung cancer.

However, McGregor said it has not been shown that the environment can cause this the available statistics are strictly from mining operations.

Tests were conducted in 14-major areas across Canada, including Vancouver, Thunder Bay, Elliot Lake, Sherbrooke, and others. In these tests, 10-thousand homes were checked and a paper recently published. Several of these measurements were above the allowed 0.02 working-levels but so far, there has been no correlation found between the incidence of lung cancer, and the homes with the higher incidence of "working-levels".

In Canada, the major source of Radon Gas has been found to be soil seepage, some attempts have been made to seal basements against the gas, with only limited success. Around Fond du Lac/Uranium City/Black Lake areas, a more effective method has been to increase the ventilation. This however, means increased costs particularly in the wintertime.

McGregor says: "If the year-round level here (Fond du Lac) is 0.15 working levels or higher, then National Health and Welfare recommends remedial action." He suggested future construction take place on solid slabs, rather than looking to put in "below-grade" basements.

It was also recommended that the drinking water be checked. Both the lake and the springs. This said McGregor, is already in the process. Samples were taken from the lake, and from a well, in mid-March. The labs are currently going over the samples for Radium and Uranium 226 content, and the result should be known by the end of April.

Oliver Nelson, the District Manager for DIAND for Prince Albert, said the department is looking at installation of ventilation systems in all the homes in Fond du Lac which have abnormally high levels of the Radon Daughter products. McGregor said the Department of NH&W will definitely be looking at the Band's request for some kind of continuing monitoring system to be put in place. He said, however, that he did not have the authority to agree to such a system without the Department's O.K.

Chief Mercredi said it appeared NH&W wasn't very concerned about the welfare of the community, as it took almost three years for anyone to come to Fond du Lac. And still a lot of questions remain unanswered.

McGregor responded by saying there was little action on the 1977 survey, because the levels were too low to bother worrying about. However, that was the survey conducted in the summer, when doors and windows would have been open. Chief Mercredi said then that if Black Lake hadn't made a federal case out of the problem, subsequent surveys would not have been done. The chief said he didn't feel further elaboration on the Problem was necessary, but stressed that fact that SOMETHING has to be done.